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Dreaming of and scouting a potential North American open-wheel draft

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So last night we had the NBA Draft (more via ProBasketballTalk here), and this morning, we had the announcement of a new team for the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series with a rookie driver in Stefan Wilson.

Because of the rarity of a new team in IndyCar (there hasn’t been one full-time in three years), bringing in a rookie driver, it got me thinking: Who are the blue-chip prospects IndyCar teams could pick if bringing money were no object and the opportunity was there to just pick their drivers on outright talent?

Yes, this will never happen and yes, money remains the calling card to get into IndyCar. I get it, but this is meant to be fun.

It’s probably worth sorting through the prospects first, then envisioning their potential suitors. This is in no particular order, but these are some current and past drivers from the Mazda Road to Indy without a full season of IndyCar experience we should be watching for over the next two-three years:

  • Sage Karam: Has some serious star potential, already four years experience in the Mazda Road to Indy, two championships (USF2000 and Indy Lights) and made a serious case for Rookie-of-the-Year honors at the Indianapolis 500.
  • Conor Daly: Has the name, a single Indianapolis 500 start under his belt, and versatility that’s been unmatched over the last couple years between various series and type of cars he’s raced. He’s hungry for a full-season chance.
  • Gabby Chaves: Has taken the next step in Indy Lights this year, and added sports car racing to his repertoire with testing and racing the DeltaWing. The next possible Colombian star, although he shares dual citizenship with the U.S.
  • Matthew Brabham: Like Daly, has a legendary surname. Fearless, fast and already fairly mature for his age, although he hasn’t been as impressive in Indy Lights as he was on his way to winning championships in Pro Mazda and USF2000.
  • Zach Veach: Veach’s marketing game was long his top selling point, but he’s substantially improved as a driver this year in Indy Lights. Perhaps not the out-and-out fastest prospect, but brings a good package to a team.
  • Luiz Razia: The Brazilian was on the doorstep of Formula One a year and a half ago and has the chops and speed needed to advance next year.
  • Jack Harvey: The Englishman might need another year in Indy Lights if he doesn’t win this year, but has potential.
  • Spencer Pigot: Top American talent in Pro Mazda is probably two years away from IndyCar, but has succeeded in both USF2000 and Pro Mazda.
  • Scott Hargrove: We need another top-level Canadian and the 2013 USF2000 champion is the best Canuck candidate at the moment. Has expanded his horizons to sports cars, and already has bagged three wins in Porsche GT3 Canada this year.
  • Shelby Blackstock: Versatility is his big selling point, having raced Pro Mazda, CTSC GS cars and the Nurburgring 24 this year. Yes, he’s Reba’s son, but he’s got a great work ethic and way of going about developing his career.
  • Garett Grist: Blackstock’s Andretti Autosport Pro Mazda teammate has a win on his belt and is quietly talented. He’s not the first guy you’d pick if you had the chance, but he’s very solid.
  • Neil Alberico: Has shaded Hargrove a bit in Pro Mazda this year. Has potential, but at the moment feels like a driver who – in stick-and-ball terms – had a great freshman or sophomore year but hasn’t made that next level leap.
  • Peter Dempsey: The 2013 Freedom 100 winner hasn’t had a full-time ride this season, so he’s on an unofficial “redshirt” year where scouts would be evaluating him based on his making the most of limited opportunities from 2009 through 2013.
  • Alex Baron: Young French driver perhaps moved up to Indy Lights too soon this year. He could use another year of seasoning before he would declare for IndyCar. That said, has potential and speed to burn based on his USF2000 cameos in 2013.
  • Mikael Grenier: French-Canadian already has a development deal with KV Racing Technology, so he’s halfway in already. Has done fine in limited Indy Lights action.
  • RC Enerson: First of the USF2000 drivers we’d be looking at. Young Floridian’s the equivalent of a college sophomore in racing terms, who’s racing wiser and more mature than he did as a freshman, but still with room to grow.
  • Florian Latorre: French USF2000 sophomore has done the equivalent of transferring colleges, in switching from the Belardi to Cape teams, and has excelled in his new environment. Still two to three years away, but has good racecraft.
  • Jake Eidson: Team USA Scholarship winner is consistent and doesn’t make mistakes, but hasn’t yet found the out-and-out pace needed to be a contender.
  • Aaron Telitz/Peter Portante: The two ArmsUp Motorsports USF2000 teammates are something of a package deal for their mix of humor, racecraft and potential. I’m not sure whether either will ever make it to IndyCar, but they make life fun in the USF2000 series.
  • Daniel Burkett: Same story as above for the Belardi USF2000 shoe, who could parlay his humor and red hair into an opportunity down the road.

INTERNATIONAL PROSPECTS!

If you don’t have a development or junior contract with a Formula One team, or millions in your pockets, it’s going to be hard to make it into F1. So some of these GP2 or GP3 drivers might be worth considering:

  • GP2: Jolyon Palmer, Julian Leal, Stefano Coletti, Mitch Evans, Raffaele Marciello, Tom Dillmann
  • GP3: Alex Lynn, Richie Stanaway, Dean Stoneman, Dino Zamparelli

LIMITED, BUT ACTUAL, INDYCAR EXPERIENCE

There’s several drivers – think a Luca Filippi, Martin Plowman, James Davison, Pippa Mann, and on down the line – who have had IndyCar race experience over the last few years but never a full season in the championship. You’d like to see them have a shot, but I wouldn’t factor them into this hypothetical, completely fictional draft.

SO WHERE COULD THEY LAND? 

Now, obviously, there’s more drivers worth watching than there are available seats. Where could these prospects land over the next few years?

  • Target Chip Ganassi Racing: Figure Tony Kanaan has in the neighborhood of two to three years left, likely, so the potential of a seat in one of the marquee Target cars could become available.
  • Team Penske: Two seats are possible, if Helio Castroneves and Juan Pablo Montoya opt to hang it up sooner rather than later.
  • Andretti Autosport: A seat only opens here if one of the team’s four drivers moves on. But Michael Andretti has an internal ladder system and could easily promote a Brabham, a Veach or a Blackstock two or three years from now.
  • Schmidt Peterson Motorsports: If Simon Pagenaud was to move up to another team, perhaps a spot opens here?
  • Dale Coyne Racing: Always a possible seat here in the second car.
  • Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing: Much as was done for Josef Newgarden, here’s a perfect place for a youngster to learn and develop if Newgarden gets the call up to a bigger team.

Again, this is purely hypothetical, but is interesting to project over the next couple years if and when there’s a changing of the guard on the grid.

NHRA: Courtney Force rolls to 1st win of ’16; Force sisters first to lead 2 classes at same time

Houston winners, from left, Doug Kalitta, Courtney Force and Greg Anderson.
(Photo courtesy NHRA)
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After watching sister Brittany have fun winning two Top Fuel events this season, it was little sister Courtney Force’s turn Sunday in the NHRA Spring Nationals at Royal Purple Raceway in Baytown, Texas.

Force captured the Funny Car class for her first win of the season, her first since summer 2014 and her eighth overall win in the Funny Car ranks.

In addition, it marked the fifth consecutive NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series event that has featured a female winner.

Force (3.913 seconds at 327.90 mph) defeated No. 1 qualifier and last week’s winner at Charlotte, Tim Wilkerson (3.943 at 323.81 mph).

In so doing, Courtney Force is now tied with Wilkerson, a two-time winner this season, for the Funny Car points lead.

What’s more, with Brittany Force leading the Top Fuel standings, this marks the first time in NHRA history that sisters have led or are tied for the lead in their respective competition classes.

“It was a pretty amazing weekend for our Chevy Camaro team,” Force said in a media release. “I was nervous going into the final against Wilkerson. I knew what kind of numbers he could put on the board and I knew I just had to be right there with him.

“We’ve been working really hard and I feel like this one felt even better than my first ever career win. We wanted it more than anything.”

The Houston-area race marks the end of the first quarter of the 24-race NHRA national event schedule.

In addition to Courtney’s win Sunday, Brittany’s two wins, Leah Pritchett’s win in Top Fuel in March and Alexis De Joria’s recent win, that marks four different females that have won races in Top Fuel or Funny Car – the most in a single season in NHRA history.

And there’s still 18 more races for even more females to extend that new mark.

As for other winners Sunday, Doug Kalitta captured the Top Fuel class, while Greg Anderson took Pro Stock.

Kalitta (3.813 seconds at 280.60 mph) earned his first win of 2016, his third SpringNationals triumph and his 39th career Top Fuel win, defeating No. 1 qualifier Steve Torrence (3.810 seconds at 306.81 mph).

“I actually didn’t realize I had won until I had gotten to the end and turned around and came back,” Kalitta said. “I was real happy. It’s good to get a win and get the momentum going. It just charges everybody up. It was just a really good day for us.”

Kalitta is now tied with Antron Brown and Kenny Bernstein for fourth place on the Top Fuel all-time wins list.

Finally, in Pro Stock, No. 1 qualifier Anderson (6.630 seconds at 209.43 mph) earned his third win of the season and his third career triumph in the SpringNationals, defeating Ken Black Racing teammate Jason Line (6.597 seconds at 209.95 mph).

“It was a tremendous day today,” said Anderson, a four-time Pro Stock champion. “I was having a ball today. I just kept wondering, ‘When’s it going to rain? When’s it going to rain? Please don’t because I feel great today.’ My car is great. My car was just a dream to drive every run and I knew I had a great chance today to win an event.”

Anderson and Line have dominated Pro Stock this season, with the duo combining to win all of the first six races of 2016, with each capturing three victories apiece. Line, who has reached the final round in every race thus far this season, still leads the standings, while Anderson is second, 79 points back.

The series takes a week off before resuming May 13-15 in suburban Atlanta for the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Southern Nationals.


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

FINAL FINISHING ORDER:

TOP FUEL: 1.  Doug Kalitta; 2.  Steve Torrence; 3.  Antron Brown; 4.  Leah Pritchett; 5.  Shawn Langdon; 6. Tony Schumacher; 7.  Kebin Kinsley; 8.  Scott Palmer; 9.  Troy Buff; 10.  Terry McMillen; 11. Brittany Force; 12.  J.R. Todd; 13.  Richie Crampton; 14.  Clay Millican; 15.  Terry Haddock; 16. Rob Passey.

FUNNY CAR: 1.  Courtney Force; 2.  Tim Wilkerson; 3.  Jack Beckman; 4.  Tommy Johnson Jr.; 5.  Del Worsham; 6. Matt Hagan; 7.  Alexis DeJoria; 8.  Ron Capps; 9.  Chad Head; 10.  Cruz Pedregon; 11.  Todd Simpson; 12.  Robert Hight; 13.  Bob Bode; 14.  John Force; 15.  Jim Campbell; 16.  John Hale.

PRO STOCK: 1.  Greg Anderson; 2.  Jason Line; 3.  Allen Johnson; 4.  Bo Butner; 5.  Vincent Nobile; 6.  Drew Skillman; 7.  Chris McGaha; 8.  Alex Laughlin; 9.  Erica Enders; 10.  Shane Gray; 11.  Jeg Coughlin; 12.  Aaron Strong; 13.  V. Gaines.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

FINAL RESULTS:

Top Fuel — Doug Kalitta, 3.813 seconds, 280.60 mph  def. Steve Torrence, 3.810 seconds, 306.81 mph.

Funny Car — Courtney Force, Chevy Camaro, 3.913, 327.90  def. Tim Wilkerson, Ford Mustang, 3.943, 323.81.

Pro Stock — Greg Anderson, Chevy Camaro, 6.630, 209.43  def. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.597, 209.95.

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FINAL ROUND-BY-ROUND RESULTS:

TOP FUEL: ROUND ONE — Tony Schumacher, 3.768, 325.61 def. Terry McMillen, 3.889, 306.26; Leah Pritchett, 3.817, 325.37 def. Clay Millican, 6.021, 103.86; Scott Palmer, 3.922, 309.42 def. Richie Crampton, 5.540, 133.43; Doug Kalitta, 3.763, 325.69 def. Terry Haddock, 6.200, 115.25; Steve Torrence, 3.764, 327.27 def. Rob Passey, Broke; Antron Brown, 3.823, 313.66 def. J.R. Todd, 5.054, 142.26; Shawn Langdon, 3.772, 322.42 def. Troy Buff, 3.824, 316.67; Kebin Kinsley, 4.002, 239.10 def. Brittany Force, 4.861, 185.69; QUARTERFINALS — Brown, 3.780, 321.27 def. Palmer, 4.014, 266.69; Pritchett, 3.745, 329.18 def. Langdon, 3.762, 318.77; Torrence, 3.742, 328.30 def. Schumacher, 3.808, 318.77; Kalitta, 4.309, 200.80 def. Kinsley, Foul – Red Light; SEMIFINALS — Kalitta, 3.755, 322.11 def. Pritchett, 4.639, 187.08; Torrence, 3.730, 327.03 def. Brown, 3.769, 309.34; FINAL — Kalitta, 3.813, 280.60 def. Torrence, 3.810, 306.81.

FUNNY CAR: ROUND ONE — Tim Wilkerson, Ford Mustang, 4.037, 307.02 def. Jim Campbell, Dodge Charger, 7.728, 80.43; Del Worsham, Toyota Camry, 3.946, 324.83 def. Todd Simpson, Chevy Camaro, 4.244, 284.45; Alexis DeJoria, Camry, 3.939, 321.73 def. John Hale, Charger, Broke; Courtney Force, Camaro, 3.951, 321.04 def. Bob Bode, Toyota Solara, 5.847, 125.66; Jack Beckman, Charger, 3.958, 319.67 def. Robert Hight, Camaro, 4.562, 216.20; Ron Capps, Charger, 4.032, 315.93 def. Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 4.037, 312.57; Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 3.987, 316.97 def. John Force, Camaro, Foul – Red Light; Matt Hagan, Charger, 3.998, 317.64 def. Chad Head, Camry, 4.010, 315.56; QUARTERFINALS — C. Force, 3.962, 318.17 def. Capps, 4.674, 179.56; Johnson Jr., 3.985, 316.97 def. DeJoria, 3.971, 321.58; Beckman, 3.949, 325.22 def. Worsham, 3.944, 324.59; Wilkerson, 3.926, 323.50 def. Hagan, 3.954, 324.59; SEMIFINALS — C. Force, 3.932, 327.03 def. Johnson Jr., 3.964, 317.34; Wilkerson, 3.906, 325.14 def. Beckman, 3.941, 322.04; FINAL — C. Force, 3.913, 327.90 def. Wilkerson, 3.943, 323.81.

PRO STOCK: ROUND ONE — Vincent Nobile, Chevy Camaro, 6.655, 207.50 def. Alex Laughlin, Camaro, 6.651, 208.10; Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.668, 206.26 def. Erica Enders, Dodge Dart, 6.659, 207.18; Allen Johnson, Dart, 6.635, 208.46 def. Shane Gray, Camaro, 6.661, 208.30; Drew Skillman, Camaro, 6.973, 160.63 def. Jeg Coughlin, Dart, Foul – Red Light; Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.636, 208.65 def. Aaron Strong, Camaro, 6.708, 206.61; Jason Line, Camaro, 6.608, 209.43 def. V. Gaines, Dart, 13.741, 58.89; Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.597, 209.92 was unopposed; QUARTERFINALS — Butner, 6.636, 208.84 def. McGaha, Foul – Red Light; Johnson, 6.655, 208.42 def. Skillman, 7.511, 139.57; Line, 6.602, 209.72 was unopposed; Anderson, 6.598, 210.08 def. Nobile, 6.659, 208.49; SEMIFINALS — Line, 6.605, 209.62 def. Butner, 6.649, 208.84; Anderson, 6.604, 209.85 def. Johnson, 6.644, 208.23; FINAL — Anderson, 6.630, 209.43 def. Line, 6.597, 209.95.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

UPDATED POINT STANDINGS:

Top Fuel: 1.  Brittany Force, 464; 2.  Doug Kalitta, 463; 3.  Antron Brown, 445; 4.  Steve Torrence, 417; 5. Clay Millican, 355; 6.  J.R. Todd, 316; 7.  Tony Schumacher, 295; 8.  Leah Pritchett, 291; 9. Richie Crampton, 275; 10.  Terry McMillen, 259.

Funny Car: 1.  (tie) Courtney Force, 439; Tim Wilkerson, 439; 3.  Ron Capps, 417; 4.  Robert Hight, 404; 5. John Force, 384; 6.  Jack Beckman, 379; 7.  Del Worsham, 376; 8.  Alexis DeJoria, 339; 9.  Chad Head, 303; 10.  Matt Hagan, 280.

Pro Stock: 1.  Jason Line, 689; 2.  Greg Anderson, 610; 3.  Bo Butner, 508; 4.  Drew Skillman, 399; 5.  Chris McGaha, 339; 6.  Allen Johnson, 318; 7.  Vincent Nobile, 262; 8.  Erica Enders, 257; 9.  Jeg Coughlin, 255; 10.  Alex Laughlin, 220.

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IMSA: PR1/Mathiasen, The Heart of Racing score PC, GTD Monterey wins

imsa_28757628
Photo courtesy of IMSA
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Sunday’s second of two two-hour Continental Tire Monterey Grand Prix events was a calmer, cleaner affair at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca for the Prototype Challenge and GT Daytona classes, featuring both polesitting entries scoring the wins in the latest IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship race.

The PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports team took its first win since winning last year’s Petit Le Mans, and first in a sprint race since incidentally, the last PC/GTD combined race at Lime Rock Park in July.

Robert Alon scored the pole in the team’s No. 52 Oreca FLM09 entry and ran consistently in second behind James French in the opening stint. Once Tom Kimber-Smith took over the car at pit stops, “TKS” controlled the race despite the advances of Renger van der Zande from Starworks Motorsport.

“Very early on Bobby (Oergel, team principal) said, ‘Start saving fuel,'” Kimber-Smith told IMSA Radio’s Shea Adam post-race. “It was hard to save with someone trying to chase down. If he was close enough he would have given me a go. We held on for the end. We needed this win; we needed it for the championship.”

Van der Zande shared the No. 8 Oreca FLM09 with Alex Popow and CORE autosport mirrored the No. 90 Visit Florida Racing Corvette DP in starting from pit lane after being late to the grid, serving a penalty but rebounding to a podium finish. Jon Bennett and Colin Braun were in the CORE entry and Braun put in a sterling drive to secure a podium.

GTD saw seven different manufacturers in the top seven positions – Porsche, Ferrari, Aston Martin, Audi, BMW, Dodge and Lamborghini – although the No. 23 The Heart of Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R was peerless up front with Alex Riberas and Mario Farnbacher dominating from pole to lead flag-to-flag in the 79-lap, two-hour race.

Porsche’s 911 GT3 R has a handful of World Challenge wins with EFFORT Racing, but this was its first in an endurance race (albeit only a two-hour race, but who’s counting).

Scuderia Corsa parlayed a front row starting position into its second second place finish of the day; the GTLM 488 GTE was second earlier, and the GT3 variant was second today in GTD with Alessandro Balzan and Christina Nielsen.

TRG-AMR, which missed Sebring, rebounded nicely with a new lineup of James Davison and Brandon Davis to end third in the No. 007 Aston Martin V12 Vantage GT3. Both team veterans secured the team’s first podium of the year.

PC and GTD resume in Detroit the first weekend in June.

Pericak praises Ford fuel mileage as new GT wins in Monterey

67 Ford GT
Photo: Ford Performance
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The Ford EcoBoost V6 twin-turbo engine put in the back of the Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GTs has been developed for years with Ganassi’s Ford-Riley DP program.

Sunday in the Continental Tire Monterey Grand Prix, the first of two two-hour races, the new Ford banked its first win courtesy of that engine making some incredible fuel mileage.

Richard Westbrook brought the No. 67 Ford GT home for his second straight win in Monterey, having also won overall here last year with Michael Valiante in a Corvette DP.

Westbrook took over the No. 67 car from Ryan Briscoe and proceeded to run 52 laps on a single fuel stint, for an hour and 17 minutes into the two-hour race.

“We’ve been waiting for this win for a long time,” Ford Performance director Dave Pericak said post-race.

“I think it’s great that it came as a fuel economy win. It’s great for Ford EcoBoost, because that’s what it’s all about, but this is really a boost for the team going into Le Mans. We’ve been working up to this point to showcase the car’s durability and I think this is what the team needed to go to Le Mans.”

“It hasn’t sunk in yet. The bad thing is we don’t have much time to celebrate. Le Mans is coming fast.”

“It’s a great win for our employees who have been watching us and turning us on and it’s a good way to keep up the momentum going into the big race.”

Here’s quick reactions from the @CGRSportsCar and @FordPerformance Twitter accounts in the immediate aftermath:

Mercedes feared power unit issue would end Rosberg’s Russian GP

SOCHI, RUSSIA - MAY 01:  Nico Rosberg of Germany and Mercedes GP celebrates his win on the podium during the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on May 1, 2016 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
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Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff praised Nico Rosberg not only for his flawless display en route to winning Sunday’s Russian Grand Prix, but also for managing an issue on his power unit that could have ended his race.

Mercedes has struggled with the reliability of its power unit so far this season, with defending champion Lewis Hamilton suffering failures in qualifying for both of the last two races.

Rosberg suffered a dip in pace midway through the second stint of the race in Sochi that saw his lead over Hamilton dip from 12 seconds to just 7.5 seconds.

Hamilton ultimately had to back off due to a water pressure issue on his own power unit, but Wolff revealed after the race that Rosberg also had to manage a problem on his car.

“That race was anything but plain sailing today – it was a pretty stressful experience to get both cars home, and there was a point when we thought neither of them might make it to the flag,” Wolff said.

“First of all, congratulations to Nico, he did a perfect job all weekend and controlled the race from the front once again. He didn’t put a foot wrong.

“When we faced an issue on the MGU-K during the middle part of the race, he was able to do all the necessary steps to keep it under control and bring it home.

“As for Lewis, he drove brilliantly. Some really good, aggressive passing manoeuvres and clever racing brought him to P2 – and he was just getting his head down to charge when we saw a water leak and he was losing water pressure.

“The only thing to do was ask him to back off to bring the car home and fortunately that meant the situation stabilized but cost him the chance of racing Nico. No doubt he will be thinking about what could have been today – but it was a fantastic recovery after such a tough moment in qualifying yesterday.

“A one-two finish is always something special and to be savoured, especially with the performance advantage we enjoyed this weekend. We are pushing hard this year and finding the limits of our car – but we need to get on top of our issues so the drivers can battle it out on track themselves.

“That’s what we all want to see and what we will be working hard to achieve in the coming days before Barcelona.”